My Least Favourite Shows of 2019
Updated: Jun 10, 2022
To open a negative article I will start on a positive note. This was a fairly easy list to compile. I have seen a fair few shows this year that I didn’t take a liking to, but most pass through my memory without impact. Only five this year stood out as being actively unpleasant experiences. Of course, I don’t doubt that they took work to create, and I will always respect thespians and dramatists for their craft, no matter how the final product comes together. That said, these ones are a serve as a reminder of what can go wrong.
5. We Want You to Watch. Alas, I must immediately contradict myself. Nothing went obviously wrong for Bathway Theatre Company’s production of Alice Birch’s absurdist play about voyeurism and pornography, but if anything that disappoints me more. This play is infused with sour nastiness and w works only in extremes, rather than creating a dialogue within itself. Instead, the aim seems to have been to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible, in the hope that simply through association we would become disgusted with porn. Sex is a theme I frequently gravitate towards in what theatre I choose to see (see my list of favourites from 2019 to see what I think of as a good), but We Want You to Watch was a necessary reminder that so long as a topic is taboo, it was always spring art that proves contentious.
4. Black and White Tea Room – Counsellor. Now for a show I had seen advertised a great deal, both this year’s Fringe and in 2018. So I finally made the effort to see it. Boasting an incredibly impressive international tour with a frequently rotating cast (even performing on alternate days in English and in the original Korean at the festival), my assumption of the play was this; it will be a pleasing, unchallenging crowd-pleaser with themes that are universally relatable, such as family, rivalry, etc. Something very black and white. How wrong I was. This play is nothing short of baffling. There was something amiss with every element of the production; the dialogue got lost in translation, the performances were bland, the direction was devoid of tension, and the plot took twenty minutes for anything of consequence to happen. In some ways it’s a wonder of a production. Put it this way; if you have a fondness for Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, this may be exactly the kind of show you’re looking for.
3. Horrible Histories: Terrible Tudors. Having grown up with the immensely popular TV show, and with Terry Deary’s books to a certain extent, I at the very least hoped for a small dose of nostalgia, and a healthy reminder of some history facts that I’m remembering less and less as time goes by. Alas, this was that rare breed of theatre that I (thankfully) rarely encounter; a cash-grab. It was devoid of any creative effort in the staging and the writing, and the performances were more akin to what I would expect at a children’s birthday party than a stage show at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. Being neither a child nor a parent, I am obviously not the target audience, but that target audience deserve so much better.
2. Black Holes. Another show whose review I’m afraid was never published, Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley’s “Afrofuturist history of the universe” appealed to me on its sheer ambition. How on earth would this look? What on earth could be said? The enormity of the task seems to have overwhelmed the performers, and what is left is overworked poetry, baffling choreography, and a great deal of moving around crates covered in bin bags and bungee cords. It can be easily divided into three acts – nothing exists, everything exists, everything ceases to exist. Black Holes collapsed in on itself, and however many intriguing ideas and concepts that kindled its creation have been lost with it.
1. Romeo and Juliet: One-Man Musical. There would be no question that Rob McGlade’s criminally mis-sold Shakespeare adaptation tops this list. Rather than a musical, the show resembles more of a concert of Mumford and Son-style folk songs, with McGlade’s colleague to the side, filming a blank faced audience (more than a few of whom walked out). McGlade’s concept album consists entirely of word-for-word lyrics, but since they are barely intelligible he may as well have been reading the phone book. Worst of all was his lack of showmanship. Perhaps a symptom of how draining the Fringe can be, but as an audience I can’t think of anything worse than having to watch a performer hate every minute he is on stage.
It is impossible to predict what will stand out and what won’t in a year of theatre. Whatever 2020 holds I can’t wait to see it, even more so with the exciting news I received recently that I am going to be spending September onwards (and indeed most of 2021) in Canada for my third year of university. It’s an exciting time, and will bring with it more opportunities, experiences, and shows. I look forward to sharing them all with you soon.